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California Desalination Projects On Track to Receive Substantial Proposition 1 Grant Funding

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) recently released draft funding recommendations totaling over $34 million in Proposition 1 funds for eight desalination projects and studies in both coastal and inland southern California. Thirty applications were submitted. Final recommendations are due any day now, and additional funding remains available for distribution through the continuous application process.



DWR received thirty proposals for the $93.1 million grant funding up for grabs under Round 4 of the Water Desalination Grant Program (Program). The Program is funded primarily by Proposition 1, by which California voters authorized $7.545 billion in general obligation bonds for water projects including surface and groundwater storage, ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration, and drinking water protection in 2014. Proposition 1 includes $725 million to fund contaminant and salt removal projects, including groundwater and seawater desalination and associated treatment, storage, conveyance, and distribution facilities, as well as pilot projects for new potable reuse and other salt and contaminant removal technology. Distribution of certain Proposition 1 funds must be managed in accordance with the Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002 (also known as Proposition 50). Three previous rounds of desalination grants for both seawater and brackish groundwater desalination were awarded in 2005, 2006, and 2014.


Program Projects and Eligibility

Funding under this fourth round Program is designated for five types of projects, which are described in the proposal solicitation package to include:


  • Constructionprojects, which generally consist of the design and construction of full-scale permanent desalination facilities and related infrastructure for operable municipal water supply projects.


  • Feasibility studyprojects, which are used to determine the need for water supply projects, to analyze the alternatives to meet projects’ objectives, to determine whether a desalination project is the preferred alternative in environmental analysis, and to identify steps for project implementation.


  • Environmental documentationprojects, which are stand-alone projects for compliance with California Environmental Quality Act or National Environmental Policy Act requirements where a project feasibility study has been completed and construction for the project is likely.


  • Design pilotprojects, which comprise small-scale prototypes for full-scale desalination projects or project components in order to refine design criteria, aid site selection, or study particular technologies or methodologies to implement the project.


  • Research Pilotprojects, which comprise small-scale prototypes for a full-scale device, equipment, process, or other technology in order to advance new desalination technology, related infrastructure, and by-products treatment and disposal.


Program-eligible projects must directly support local or regional water resources and directly or indirectly provide water supply benefits. Project evaluation is based on criteria that includes, for example:


  • •Increased potable water supply to increase public health and the quality of municipal water supply systems.


  • Increased water supply reliability.


  • Improved water desalination technology, process efficiencies, and methodologies.


  • Advanced methods that minimize adverse impacts to the environment associated with desalination processes and new water supplies which decrease reliance on diversions from the Delta or instream flows.


  • Contribute to decreasing environmental impacts caused by greenhouse gas emissions which includes energy efficiencies (i.e., water-energy nexus).


Program Draft Funding Recommendations

Thirty applicants requested approximately $139 million in Program funding for projects totaling $622.5 million in estimated costs. In its recently-released Draft Funding Recommendation for Water Desalination Grant Program Round 4—Proposition 1 Grants (Draft Recommendation), DWR recommended to award a total of over $34.4 million in grant funds to eight out of the thirty proposals, including:


  • •South Coast Water District: $10,000,000 for the Doheny Ocean Desalination Phase 1 Construction Project


  • City of Antioch: $10,000,000 for the City of Antioch Brackish Water Desalination Construction Project


  • City of Camarillo: $10,000,000 for the North Pleasant Valley Desalter Construction Project


  • Eastern Municipal Water District: $1,500,000 for the Enhanced Brine Concentration Design Pilot Project


  • Olivenhain Municipal Water District: $650,000 for the San Dieguito Valley Brackish Groundwater Desalination Design Pilot Project


  • Indian Wells Valley Water District: $1,083,984 for the Indian Wells Valley Brackish Groundwater Feasibility Study Project


  • Water Replenishment District of Southern California: $700,000 for the West Coast Basin Brackish Water Reclamation Feasibility Study Project


  • University of Southern California: $503,490 for the System Configurations and Cooling Technologies for Waste-Heat-Driven Membrane Distillation in Desalination Applications with High Water Recovery Research Pilot Project


The total recommended grant funding comprises approximately sixteen percent of the eight projects’ combined total estimated costs. DWR provided comments and questions to each of these applicants that must be addressed during the contracting process before funds will be distributed.


Continuous Application Process

The public comment period for the Draft Recommendations had not expired as of the date of this writing. Final Program funding recommendations are anticipated to be released in early March. The $93.1 million Program funds are to be distributed through a continuous application process and awarded on a first-ready, first-served basis until all grant funds are exhausted. With the exception of research pilot projects, applicants that were not initially selected for funding may submit revised applications.


Conclusion and Implications

Through Proposition 1 and this Program, California continues to prioritize the development of desalination projects and technologies in both coastal and inland regions. Whether and to what extent these projects contribute to local water supply portfolios and reliability—and the associated costs—remains to be seen.

(Derek Hoffman, Michael Duane Davis)